MERRIMACK, NH (AP) — A French company accused of contaminating drinking water in some New Hampshire communities with a group of chemicals known as PFAS said Wednesday it plans to close its plant there and will work with the state working together on an ongoing environmental policy. research.
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics said in a statement that it will “restructure its composite solutions business in the United States,” after reviewing the company’s business goals and what is “aligned with the company’s mission and plan .”
The Paris-based company, which bought the Merrimack plant from ChemFAB in 2000, initially thought nothing harmful was released. But the state said that changed in 2004 after the company installed more advanced technology. After alerting the state, the Department of Environmental Services determined that Saint-Gobain was exceeding state air limits for PFAS, and the company agreed to significantly reduce emissions.
PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Known as “forever chemicals,” they are widespread, dangerous, and expensive to remove from water. They also do not break down in the environment and are linked to health problems, including low birth weight and kidney cancer.
The state did not begin conducting groundwater surveys until 2016, as there was no evidence at the time that the emissions posed a threat to groundwater. That came to light after wells near Saint-Gobain facilities in Hoosick Falls, New York, were found to be contaminated with PFOA — or perfluorooctanoic acid, the most commonly known form of PFAS. Wells in Bennington and North Bennington, Vermont, were also found to be contaminated with PFOA around the company’s now-closed plant in Bennington. The contamination led to at least two class action lawsuits against Saint-Gobain.
In 2019, the state lowered the standard for PFOA from 70 parts per trillion to 12 parts per trillion and launched an extensive well sampling program. It identified 1,000 properties with contaminated water and determined that the contamination was caused by emissions from the Merrimack plant.
Last year, Saint-Gobain agreed to supply bottled drinking water and “permanent alternative water, where applicable” to the properties in Bedford, Hudson, Litchfield, Londonderry and Merrimack. It also provided a framework in case additional properties were compromised.
There are 164 employees at the Merrimack plant. Saint-Gobain said alternative roles and relocation assistance will be offered to eligible employees who wish to remain with the company, and support packages will be made available to those who do not wish to continue.
State House Representative Nancy Murphy, a Democrat from Merrimack, said residents will continue to pay a huge price after the plant closes.
“In addition to the costs borne by private well owners outside of a far too small ‘consent’ area, we have paid to filter the drinking water in our homes; we paid to filter the public resources in our city; we paid to filter the drinking water in our schools… and we pay for the pollution of our air, water and soil with our compromised health,” she said in a statement.